If you don’t feel loved, you may not be earning your spouse’s respect
If your spouse does not respect you, he (or she) has learned that he doesn’t have to. And, he learned this from you. This often happens to people who fear their spouse’s reaction if they speak up or do something. They rely too much on being patient. This does not mean, however, that you should ever nag or criticize your spouse. Those behaviors will make your spouse feel controlled and may end up doing more damage than the behavior you are complaining about. Fortunately, there are good ways of building respect and dealing with problems that don’t involve either being patient or being controlling.
How Respect Is Lost
Respect is lost from the first time that you allow your spouse to mistreat you or damage the relationship. If your spouse is using his cell phone at the dinner table for the first time, you might not like it, but let it slide. The longer it goes on, however, the more your spouse will feel entitled to use the cell phone at the dinner table. If you complain about it, you will at first be given excuses. As you complain more about it, you will be told that you are controlling. In your initial effort not to make waves, you let something go on to the point that your spouse no longer cares what you want. That is loss of respect. It happens with cell phones, staying out without calling, lies, name calling, and many relationally toxic behaviors. These behaviors erode the love in your partner as well as yourself. If it goes on long enough, there will be no love left.
Protective Thinking and Reactive Thinking Prevent Respect Building Behaviors
When I work with my clients on building respect, they have to learn to stop both protective thinking and reactive thinking.
Protective thinking is like, “What do I need to do to keep my partner from getting upset?” Protective thinking seeks short term peace at the expense of long term loss of love and connection. It is characteristic of avoidant people, who fear conflict, and needy people, who fear abandonment. Protective thinking keeps people from demanding respect in the first place, when it would do the most good. They let the disrespectful behavior go on and on until they can’t suppress their feelings any longer. Then, they either explode at their spouse or withdraw into depression. Both are relationship killers. Using protective thinking is like failing to put out a little fire until it becomes a raging blaze. If you are going to do something, it’s always best to do it as soon as you can.
Reactive thinking is vengeful and leads to an escalations of conflict. Reactive thinking is like, “Well, I’m just going to do the same to him/her and see how he/she likes it,” Or, “Because my partner makes me so upset, I’m just going to withhold (talking, money, sex, time, etc.),” or “If he/she can’t talk to me nicely (or do what I want), then I’m just not going to talk at all.” Using reactive thinking is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Two outcomes are possible. The reactive person either emotionally beats their spouse into submission, or provokes reactivity in their spouse. Both ways lead to loss of love and an eventual end to the relationship.
Neither protective thinking nor reactive thinking can get you the respect which is vital for your relationship. The alternative to protective thinking and reactive thinking is proactive thinking.
Proactive Thinking will Get More Respect
Proactive thinking is neither concerned with avoiding conflict or controlling our partner. People who are proactive ask themselves questions like, “What can I do?” “What would a secure person do in this situation?” and “How can I help my spouse desire to treat me better?” Proactive people very deliberately work to build love and respect over time, rather than reactively, all at once. The process is remarkably similar to good parenting. We don’t try to get our children to make instant changes by being very severe to the point it damages our child’s self esteem or our relationship with our child. Instead, we love and nurture our children while putting into place reasonable boundaries. We never, ever, reject our children. Neither should we do that with our spouses. If we work to foster love in our relationship with our spouse, while maintaining lines that cannot be crossed, we will have a close and secure marriage. Having a healthy marriage without personal rules–without boundaries–would not work any better than parenting without boundaries.
There Are Five Major Areas that My Clients Work on to Rebuild Respect in Their Relationship
Some people only need to work on one of these, while other people need to work on all five. Like communication and cooperation, I have never heard anyone regret having spent time working on getting more respect from his or her spouse. You will note that all of these things are done by the person who is being disrespected. You can spend years trying to get your spouse to change, or you can make changes in yourself that earn respect. By working on what you do, you can put both respect and love back in your marriage.
Five important areas to work on to build respect:
- Being respectful to your spouse
- Not tolerating mistreatment
- Identifying who owns the problem
- Using win-win strategies
- Responding to the underlying desires that are driving the behavior.
“How do I respect my spouse if he or she has toxic behavior?”
Separate the person from the behavior. Continue to give loving messages to your spouse, while limiting the damage that is being done to you by the behavior. For example, if your spouse is misspending money, you may need to have a separate bank account. But, you can communicate that you love your spouse and want to get back to the point where you can feel safe to share an account again. There is nothing about boundaries which require us to be nasty.
“What do you mean by owning the problem?”
If your spouse is coming late to dinner, is that your problem or your spouse’s? If it is yours, then you need to do something about it. If it’s not, then you don’t. I suggest that you let it be your spouse’s problem. Put his or her dinner in the refrigerator, and greet him or her with a hug or a kiss when he or she does return home. You don’t need to be stressed out because your spouse is coming home late, and you can help to keep your relationship strong. If you made it your problem, then you would feel you need to somehow correct your spouse. This would mean complaining and blaming. Rather than fixing the problem, you would become more distant from your spouse.
“What do you mean by responding to underlying desires?”
Just as people have different love languages, they also have different motivations for their behaviors. You have to take them into consideration if you are going to attract and motivate your spouse. Some spouses want to get things right, some want to get things done, some want to get attention, and some just want to get along. As I wrote in my book, What to Do When He Won’t Change, there are specific ways to approach each of these four personality types that results in less conflict and more love. Ask yourself right now, “What is my spouse’s love language, and what drives his or her behavior?” If you know the answer to those two things and take them into account with your communication and your boundaries, you will be more effective at building both love and respect. If your attempts to be loving are being rejected and you are continuing to be mistreated, then you are working against your spouse rather than with him or her. Until you get on the same page as your spouse (rather than trying to get him or her onto your page), the building process cannot begin. In my book, Connecting Through “Yes!” I give many example for how to get on your spouse’s side–even in the most difficult situations.
The End Result of Building Respect
When there is respect and love, couples end up desiring to be with each other. The basic desire that makes us want to have a relationship in the first place is the desire to bring out our deepest love and give it to our partner. If our spouses are disrespectful, we are the one’s who have failed to earn their respect. Doing that is part of the work of having a healthy marriage, much as it is with healthy parenting. We may wish that our children or spouses will just respect us out of the kindness of their hearts, but that’s not the way it works. Love is given and respect is earned. I have helped many people to regain their spouse’s respect and restore love in their marriage. If you are willing to really work in a way that benefits your marriage, you can restore your marriage, too.